SAN MARCOS, Texas — It’s no surprise that UL-Lafayette and South Alabama are meeting in Friday’s winner’s bracket final of the Sun Belt Conference softball tournament.
It also won’t be a surprise if they meet again in Saturday’s title game.
The 10th-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns and the 22nd-ranked Jaguars have been the league’s two best programs for the past few seasons. USA snapped a streak of four UL-Lafayette tournament titles with a 3-1 win in the tournament title game in 2012, and the Cajuns came back to take last year’s crown in Lafayette with a 4-1 victory in the finale.
“You don’t approach it any differently,” Cajuns pitcher Jordan Wallace said of going against USA. “It’s always a battle in the conference, and when you play each other three times, they know how you’re going to pitch and we know how they’re going to hit.”
The Cajuns advanced to Friday’s 1 p.m. winner’s final with a 10-2 victory over Georgia State on Thursday, while South Alabama took a 6-2 win over UL-Monroe in the other double-elimination game. The championship game is at 1 p.m. Saturday.
UL-Lafayette associate head coach T.J. Hubbard wouldn’t say if Wallace (16-4) would get the ball again. When the Cajuns took two out of three over the Jaguars in their regular-season series in Mobile, Alabama, Wallace won a 3-2 decision in the opener, and fellow senior Christina Hamilton won 9-3 in the nightcap. USA salvaged one game in the series with an 8-5 third-game victory.
“We won’t decide that until game time,” Hubbard said of the pitching decision.
There was only one illegal pitch call in the tournament’s first five games Wednesday and Thursday, but that changed in Thursday’s finale. USA senior pitcher Farish Beard was called at least six times for illegal pitches, and that contributed to her seven walks allowed.
Beard still pitched into the seventh inning against ULM and fanned eight, allowing only three hits.
Texas State’s Bobcat Stadium is very much a hitter’s park, with short (195-foot) foul lines and winds that blow out consistently toward left field. That has contributed to 10 home runs through the first two days of the tournament — four of them in six innings by the Cajuns on Thursday.
“That’s fun,” said UL-Lafayette catcher Lexie Elkins, who added to her national home-run lead with a two-run shot in Thursday’s first inning against Georgia State. “Any short field is a good field.”
Elkins now has 28 home runs on the season, the second-most in UL-Lafayette history behind the record 30 of Danyele Gomez in 2006. As a team, the Cajuns have 101 homers on the year, one off the school record 102 in 2006. In fact, Georgia State has three homers in the tournament, and also has 101 homers this year, albeit in 12 more games than the Cajuns.
UL-Lafayette is playing without head coach Michael Lotief, who is still battling illness and is scheduled to have a second throat surgery in Houston this week. Lotief missed three three-game weekend trips the Cajuns took in the latter half of the season to Texas State, Appalachian State and Oregon. ... The winner of Saturday’s title game will earn the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The bracket announcement is 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU. The Cajuns and the Jaguars are virtual locks to make the field, with UL-Lafayette in contention to host a regional site.